1 Nephi 16 – Epic Falls and Small Obedience

A) “No references?” I asked, disbelieving anyone would ever think to omit those essentials.

“No, I have none,” he responded, dropping the harsh h down his throat as most native Arabic speakers do (as if you’re going to clear your throat).

“You didn’t fill out the rest of it”, I said flipping through it quickly for job experience.

“No, it would be a lie to”.

He had diffidently, yet hopefully, handed me his application to work as an Arabic tutor or intake personnel for the Center at which I work. He carried the irony that tall, soft-spoken men do: gentle presence when we expect raw, Wreck-it-Ralph clumsiness. He’s in his late 20’s and family is all back in Egypt, friends too. I learned he arrived in America last August and has since moved through 5 locations with no job; I see now, he lives in nagging, exhausting fear.

For I read his application – the most reputable portion being his name and current address. After he handed it to me and returned to his desk, I saw he was hunkered over, his big yet lanky legs folded awkwardly beneath the desk. It somehow contained his massive hulk. He was seated behind a computer in the row behind me. We were now in class together because I was now observing one of my ESL courses to complete my MA practicum in Applied Linguistics. With heavy mental and emotional obstacles, his story is similar to many refugees and emigrants to the US, even many US citizens. My thoughts drifted to him as I wondered how he faces a loneliness I haven’t faced. Who knows what financial sacrifice his family made to relocate him from an unstable Egypt and war-torn region, from the choices of thousands of fellow Egyptians?

B) Two weeks earlier, as I sat with my colleague at work, she said, “I’m so mad at God. If a God really did exist, how could he allow so much evil to occur? You don’t have to answer that, but…”. Implying she’s not really asking right now, and I understood, we had monthly and weekly statistics to gather, so I didn’t feel obligated to fully answer her then and I didn’t.

But I did first agree with her concerning the sad, sorry state of the world. As I write now, I think of the evils of ISIS (ISOL or dash), Boko Haram in Nigeria, war in the middle east, human trafficking, innumerable instances of domestic abuse, regional poverty the world over and even in the US, minimal access to health care, racial tensions exacerbated in recent months in the US, job loss, and western political, social, and cultural forces appearing to upend much of the positive aspects of what’s pejoratively or denigratingly considered “traditional” in family and gender roles.

Asking if God exists, sincerely, is different than acknowledging his existence, or at least the idea of his existence, by blaming Him. It’s hard for many to learn, as had Laman and Lemuel, that God’s omnipotence does not extend into our wills (unless you believe everything’s already been done in the mind of God). Not uselessly have philosophers (St. Augustine, Boethius, and so many others) been kept busy a while considering the role agency plays in a world created by an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent deity or otherwise numinous force.

Heeding the divine injunction of a loving Savior to keep the 2 great commandments, godly forces are present in the service that others rend to you, and as you render to others. As Nephi recounts to us, his rather obstinate yet sometimes repentant brothers made choices that resulted in not only immediate effects (rebellion against Lehi and serious quarreling with Nephi), but generational results (entirety of a millennium of conflict, bitterness and revenge). While I believe that “all men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression“, we do live through the effects of others’ so-called, personal Falls – everyday negative choices. Not only our own limited capacities and foolish choices, but the millions of others’ around us. But sometimes people ignore this complex reality, choosing not to confront it, instead creating a simple scapegoat absolving us of any responsibility (aka God) to correct, amend or otherwise improve our situation. Ultimately declining to improve their own lives in truly living God’s commandments.

My righteous grandfather died due to a car accident during a foggy morning in the late 80’s, my other grandfather passed in 2007 due to lung cancer – he never smoked, my aunt recently passed last year because a driver ran a red light and she was on her motorcycle passing through the intersection. Watch this man’s commandment-blessed story of loving and forgiving the drunken driver who recklessly killed his wife and kids. And Laman and Lemuel had it rough – leaving plush comforts of a Jerusalem home and living for years in a forsaken, nomad-ridden desert: but so did Nephi, Sam, and Lehi. I mean, Nephi’s steel bow broke – the weapon or tool that could deal death at a distance, and find food, was gone. At Ishmael’s death (1 Nephi 16:35), his daughters murmured against Lehi and wanted to return, like Laman and Lemuel, to Jerusalem. They doubted the Lord’s goodness and revelations to Nephi and Lehi, and suspected grandiose, even kingly, vengeful desires from younger Nephi (v.38). After all, at this time the eldest receives the inheritance and birthright like the quintessential Biblical lineage, and birthright reckoning disputations of, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And that’s the problem: being unable to think and live outside the social distance box they’d forged for themselves, they thought “we are older, deserve power, status and position”. To them, Nephi was never an equal, a brother – he was either more, or less, than them. I wrote last post of a spiritual equation or faith-filled formula, and I encourage you to view this brief message from a true, duly ordained, modern Apostle of the Living Christ. He analogizes the commandments as an equation for happiness – which I testify, affirm, and validate that they are to anyone willing to try them. Christ declared them to be much the same (John 7:17, 14:15, 21, 15:10) and everything He did and commanded us to do, He did so that we might know Heavenly Father (John 17:3).

The Egyptian ESL student, my colleague, and I have each made choices within the world we’ve inherited and reap the consequences. But, living the commandments of God keeps me free from the world’s stain and my own daily, epic Falls – because living the commandments places me in a state to do good, be moral (virtue is its own reward), and receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. I’m not perfect, but I try. A young man (19) I know is getting baptized on the 11th of April because He knows the Savior’s commandments are true. And I know that His commandments are true, the consequential evidence is staggering, and besides, the Savior commanded that we do them. The disturbing NYTimes headlines sufficiently (if skewed as headlines) declare man’s views of himself. The ancient and modern commandments are graceful gifts and actions that man can’t devise and are small and simple (1 Nephi 16:29) things that, when done daily, result in the natural joy of the saints.

Find someone to serve and with whom to share such wonderful news! Thanks for reading…leave your comments below 🙂


1 Nephi 15 – Thickheaded and Hardhearted

“”There is a Biblical and Talmudic admonition never to speak of God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But rather as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – thus to underline that each patriarch and matriarch came directly to God. Each found him in the same way and at the same sacrificial cost.”  ~Truman G. Madsen (Clark, 2005)

Obstacles to Creating Knowledge

In similar Abrahamic fashion, the incontrovertible results of Moroni’s invitation to all readers to disprove his claim to individual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost validates the reality that each person not only can know that his words are true, that Jesus is the Christ, but that God is a sentient being that responds to prayer. You need not rely on a bishop, apostle, preacher, imam, or rabbi – you can know for yourself. He claims one can also know “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). Before we get to that, however, recognize that Laman and Lemuel incessantly box their ears at “this hard doctrine” (Maxwell, 2000) and never pay the sacrificial cost of placing one’s will on the metaphorical altar in daily prayer and obedience to ancient and modern commandments and covenants. The continual surrender and alignment of one’s own will, in comparison to relinquishing money or possessions is, arguably, the only kind of true sacrifice one can make, without which you are left to your own rational and empirical devices.

After his visions, Nephi asks his brothers if they’d asked God themselves about the massive and sweeping prophecies he’d seen for himself and subsequently relayed to them (contained in the preceding 4 chapters). To which they reply “We have not: for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9). They’ve thrown their hands up at praying long ago and don’t consider their unwillingness to communicate in prayer, or that they have hard hearts and at least feel for the idyllic past and the comforts of home and society in Jerusalem. An essential factor is absent: a sincere desire to know for themselves. Recall that Spirit is truth, and “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). I want to really unpack that statement, because it’s loaded. But, simply put, anything that contributes to knowledge of the past, present and future is truth (and too much of one is harmful).

They thought and hoped only for the past, like the future Pharisees and Sadducees who did not believe God revealed truth through prophets in their day. And then, boom, the Son of God appears, teaching “as one that had authority” (Mark 1:22). Just like scientific inquiry, how do we get at that truth: questions and tests. The Pharisees failed to ask the right questions of Christ, seeing his revelations as only the political challenges to their sociopolitical status and power that they without doubt were grasping to tenaciously. As one LDS author recently put it, “What makes the LDS Church so different? Questions have been restored to the earth.” (Christensen, 2013). Just as scientific inquiry uncovers or discovers natural or quantum laws, so too do LDS questions reveal eternal laws. So let’s start with the first question(s): Does God exist and is the Book of Mormon true scripture of Christ?

Getting that knowledge of God according to Moroni’s conditions (Moroni 10:3-7) 1)

Recall what God has done for you and humanity (be the opposite of Laman and Lemuel and consider all the goodness in your life as a mass of hard evidence – Moroni 10:6) 2) Literally ask God, in the name of Christ, if the Book of Mormon “is not true” 3) Ask sincerely, or with “real intent” to value the answer 4) Having faith in Christ 5) Don’t deny the power of God – so doubt your doubts If that burning or peaceful feeling occurs, don’t deny it  though you may want to for the implications are just as real – that God lives and communicates in ways we just can’t explain as of yet. Science exists because we can’t explain observable phenomena, and want to, and when you read and pray to God just as he describes, the phenomena is bound to happen. But, what if it doesn’t work (ie. I don’t feel the Spirit)? You probably haven’t satisfied any of the above conditions…It’s mind bending, I know, moreso than the general or special theories of relativity even.

Where the Scientific Method Fails

For instance, “If the hypothesis-testing process fails to eliminate most of the personal and cultural biases of the community of investigators, false hypotheses can survive the testing process and then be accepted as correct descriptions of the way the world works” (Baumgardner, 2008). Does Moroni’s test eliminate biases, or subjectivity, and achieve objectivity? Yes. In other words, you’re not going to make the answer appear out of thin air just because you simply want it to (delusional). Maybe I can explain.

For example, while I served my 2 year LDS mission in Canada ‘(05-’07) I wanted to know what level of truth and truths was in each Church or religion. So, as we attended Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, and Pentecostal services with our investigator-friends and subsequently I felt the Spirit. Usually once a preacher or minister or priest expressed deep devotion and sincere confession of faith in testifying that they knew Christ lived and died for their sins because they had felt the Spirit testify to them too. The truth was they believed in Christ and the Spirit bore witness to my spirit that it was so, whether on the pulpit or the street. Someone once said that we in the Church have no  corner on spirituality. Eternal principles found in Hindi and Buddhist practices and worship reveal to me the Spirit works strongly in individuals not of my faith.

While I had always understood that concept, I had no stark, direct or experiential proof or evidence of that until then. I was overjoyed, shocked and thankful that Heavenly Father had validated not only truth but the process itself, the faith-based method of revelation. So then, since we are question askers and truth seekers wherever it is to be found, my mind and heart had received light and truth (intelligence) through some obedience on my part and immense grace of the Spirit on the other (D&C 93:36-39). But as I took in the rock band on stage or observed the more incoherent and convulsive speaking in tongues in the pew behind me, the Spirit left…and so did we.

Certain practices are not conducive to the Spirit, so I learned, and hence the objectivity. My mental awareness perked up involuntarily when the Spirit left those circumstances. However, I believe I felt the Spirit present during a Passover dinner at a friend’s house  while waiting for Elijah to be present at the meal and at synagogue as parts of the Torah were read. I felt the Spirit in a Mosque In Canada while observing the immense submission and prostration characteristic to Muslims during one of the 5 calls to prayer as they removed their shoes before entering the Mosque proper, as we do when worshipping in LDS temples. While I haven’t been to a separate house of worship in a year or so, I can validate I’ve felt the Spirit during conversations with coworkers and neighbors, and while listening to some bits of the news on NPR or am590, or in scientific journals, or on mountain hikes because I can differentiate and synthesize logic and faith. In essence, we don’t discard anything that is true, unless it’s superceded by further light and knowledge; and its corollary is also true from experience: we aren’t obligated to believe what’s not true.

So, have some faith and try these steps out! Even seek to disprove them like all good science experiments do by seeking to feel the Spirit in all sorts of environments (in different churches, physical locations, times of day, your emotional states etc.). Note when it works and when it doesn’t. This faith formula is in the Bible (James 1:5, Galatians 5:22 and more) but crystal clear in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10 and Alma 32, entire book of 1 Nephi and Enos). Start obeying what Latter-day Saints believe are modern commandments and you’ll find they increase that feeling from the prayer (or that you perhaps feel as you read this…). Be like Nephi and Abraham – satisfy or reproduce the conditions, let the answers (data results) flow. This method is what everyone wants to believe but can’t let themselves – Mormon or not, let yourself test it a little more this week.



Baumgardner, J. (2008). Exploring the limitations of the scientific method. Acts & Facts. 37 (3): 4

Christensen, C. (2013). The power of everyday missionaries. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Maxwell, N. (Oct, 2000). Insights from my life. Ensign.

Sacred Patterns

What’s struck me as most prevalent about 1 Nephi 1 is its characteristic autobiographical narrative perspective, significance of language, and the revelatory pattern of divine communication to humanity through prophets, followed by adherents and detractors. As an aside, how old is Nephi when he’s writing this? Is it during the eight years he and his family traveled around the Arabian Peninsula and wilderness? Or was it written once they’d arrived in the Promised Land? Anyone have an educated guess?

In any event, Nephi lists his familial, social, and educational status, a literary custom of his day according to Hugh Nibley. Nibley references the Autobiography of Kai, written just before Nephi’s time, in which this man Kai states “I, Kai, was the son of a man who was nehet and saa [who was worthy and wise]” (Nibley, Lecture 2, 2). Nephi begins with “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents” (I Nephi 1:2). While this phrase is often used to highlight Lehi and Sariah’s presumed and evident good character, might it not be a reference to their “exceedingly great” (1 Nephi 3:25) property, material wealth and possessions? For instance, Lehi’s gold, silver, and many precious items are reluctantly relinquished by Laman and Lemuel to Laban in order to obtain the plates from him on their first return to Jerusalem. To which Laban was opportunistic and kicked them out of his house on threat of death (3:26), actually with his servants in hot pursuit. Understanding this possible interpretation helps explain perhaps why Nephi wrote in “the language of [his] father, which consisted of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1:2). Nephi had enough privileged position in ancient Israeli society to learn to read, write, and speak competently enough in Hebrew and Egyptian.

On that note, because Nephi probably wrote in language 1000 years removed from Mormon and Moroni, various interesting interpretations of the word ‘which’ arise from verse 2. For instance, does language refer to a record or language? BYU Religion professor Daniel Ludlow summarizes the interpretive puzzle by posing the question that “is Nephi referring to the spoken words, the written script, the grammatical constructions, the thought patterns, the exact phraseology, or what?” (Ludlow, 88). In 400 A.D. Mormon notices the change in written characters having abridged Nephi’s Small and Large Plates that had been handed down through Nephite prophet-historian generations. In historical linguistics, it is expected that groups of migrating peoples will speak pidgin, or informal mixing of a person’s primary or native tongue and vocabulary with a secondary language. This malleable formation can become the rising generation’s native tongue, or in this case, what is called a creole, if they are exposed to it instead of each pre-migration language. Hence, we get ‘reformed Egyptian’ in Mormon 9:32-34.

So, whatever sophisticated mode of language Nephi refers to, he had the privilege of learning it from his father, who became one of the many visionary prophets (Jeremiah, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah) in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. prior to its fall under Babylon mentioned in Jeremiah 35:15 and 1 Nephi 1:4 and its footnote, 4d. In verse 4 it seems Lehi was concerned at the rise of prophets in Jerusalem prophesying imminent destruction if repentance was not enacted (v.4), prayed to the Lord “with all his heart”(v. 5), and received a personal divine communication in the form of a vision while he was overcome with the Spirit (vv. 6-14). Sadly, what he reiterates to the people is mocked (v. 19).

Here is the beginning of a telling pattern of communication (the Book of Mormon is replete with it) from a loving Heavenly Father to a faithful individual earnestly seeking current guidance to a disturbing future condition or event. Nephi closes this revelatory episode from his father’s writings with the assurance that he “will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (v. 20). Lehi’s family is spared the Babylonian destruction under Nebachudnezzar – that is certainly one major tender mercy. Tender mercies, the spiritual experiences, is what Nephi labored to not only teach his family and descendants, but to record for our day, when the Gospel would be restored and the world would need a powerful witness of the Bible’s truths and that God speaks to all people who trust Him above all else.

So, my discussion of the autobiographical and linguistic richness and complexities, if it is useful and intriguing at best, mostly serves to establish the book’s credibility as an historical source of much human value, but so are the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Tel el-Amarna Letters, etc, discovered in the mid-20th century. Departing from both of those works, the Book of Mormon contains “formal elements of literature, such relationships of sound, multiple meanings, prose rhythms, concision, texture, and puns, that have preoccupied much literary criticism in this century” (England, 96) that are without doubt, valuable to the scholar and literary critic but also to verify internally that it is consistent with ancient knowledge and forms only Joseph could’ve known “through an ancient manuscript and revelation” (91). However, we are not to let these tantalizing tidbits of sophisticated research divert “us from other, perhaps weightier, matters, such as the large patterns of stories and repeated events that reveal the nature of sin and salvation” (England, 96), or the merciful divine patterns of revelation, an idea made famous recently in the LDS community by modern-day Apostle, Elder David A. Bednar (2005).

Nephi’s heavenly-commanded abridgment and recording efforts, and the entire book, were consecrated for a very specific purpose in the Lord, which Nephi himself didn’t fully know (1 Nephi 9: 3, 5-6). Church history records that 116 pages of profane history were translated by Joseph Smith in July 1828, and then lost, known as the book of Lehi, by Martin Harris as he sought to vindicate his monetary investment in the translation efforts to more than skeptical relatives and friends by showing them the transcript. Needless to say, at that time Joseph learned a very sobering lesson that fulfilled the Lord’s foresight in commanding Nephi to prepare more records (116 pages worth to be exact), recorded in Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants, one which he would not forget easily.

England (1990) argues that through Nephi and other Book of Mormon writers we receive a “remarkably full understanding of the role of Christ in human salvation and thus in history, perhaps fuller than that of biblical writers and thus more responsive to typological patterns in Israelite history as well as their own history” (95). This will come in handy once the invaluable and yet infamous Isaiah chapters are reached. He continues to cite the chiasmus and tree-of-life imagery as “formal devices…as a way of thinking and experiencing that we need to understand and recover in order to approach the formal beauty and powerful message of the Book of Mormon” (99). Lastly, because it “is more unified and has had fewer problems of transmission and translation, it might provide better answers to some questions than the Bible” (100). Essentially, the reader begins to approach the “learning of the Jews”, the allusions to which Nephi will point in order to illustrate the pure doctrines of Christ that have persisted in Biblical metaphors and imagery, yet whose significance has been lost due to cultural loss and translation errors from the original Aramaic, from the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Pentateuch to the various German and English translations since Wycliffe and the King James version of 1603.

When revelation occurs or prophets speak, we need only but to pray and ask God if it be true, as James directs (1:5), as Lehi did (1 Ne. 1:5) or as Moroni implores of the reader (10:5). Nephi discovered it early on, and tender mercies came as much as he listened to the answers: saved from starving after breaking his steel bow, built a boat to traverse the seas to the Promised Land, escaped the threat of murderous brothers (2Ne. 5:5), and so many others. This sacred pattern of trusting God to tell you if it or anything came from Him is central to any testimony and conversion to Him and His true prophet’s teachings, through whom He does not reveal His will otherwise (Amos 3:7). May we all discover and rediscover this sacred pattern this week, is my hope.

Instead of good luck, good faith! (One of my wise college professors would encourage us as he handed out his exams to us by saying “Good skill”, instead of ‘good luck’. So, this is my variant within a faith-related frame. Hey, it was that or “May the faith be with you”, the former being just a tad more appropriate considering the sacred nature of the subject matter at-hand 🙂 )


Conference Report, Apr. 2005: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/04/the-tender-mercies-of-the-lord?lang=eng

England, E. (1990). A second witness for the Logos: the Book of Mormon and contemporary literary criticism. In John M. Lundquist (Ed.), By Study and Also By Faith, Vol. 2, (pp. 91-125). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Ludlow, D. (1976). A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Nibley, H. (2004). Teachings of the Book of Mormon. (Semester 1, Lecture 2). Provo, UT: Covenant Communications.